I did finally make it to the Reserve on that quiet, foggy morning. Opened in 1996, the course was built as a prototype for high-quality, reasonably priced public golf by the PGA of America. Every community should be so lucky. The Reserve is golf on a grand scale. There are currently two dazzling eighteens. A thirty-five-acre practice and teaching center, a par-three course and a third eighteen, the latter designed by Pete Dye, are under construction (and set to open in late '99). The heaving fairways, the bunkers, the greens and even the pine trees all seemed exaggeratedly large--a designer's response, perhaps, to the proliferation of oversize clubs. Yet the proportions are right--Tom Fazio is Henry Moore with a bulldozer, molding curvaceous, even voluptuous fairways and green sites that are both challenging and pleasing to the eye.
Fazio can afford to be choosy-- he gets several queries a week from developers--but he did not think twice about taking the commission at the Reserve. "It isn't every day that the PGA of America calls," he says. Given plenty of land, he delivered two completely different courses.
The South course begins on a par five with the widest fairway west of the first at St. Andrews--only a heroically bad drive would reach the scrub on the right--and proceeds from one instantly memorable hole to the next. The second, at 461 yards, is the number-one stroke hole. Three is shorter but with a trickier approach. Four is a gorgeous but intimidating par three, 222 yards of carry over a marsh to a vast green. Five is a little par four beside a lagoon and some orange groves to a narrow, multi-tiered green that is both difficult to hit and easy to three-putt. Six is another great par three from a raised tee to a green guarded by traps (right) and a lagoon (left). Seven, a shapely par five, is reachable in two. I could go on--the back nine is no worse.
Having started out alone, I was caught at the second tee by Mike, a local policeman with a well-drilled swing. Then, at the turn, we joined two ex-Air Force guys, Jimmy Dee and Keith, who had turned pro and were preparing for a Golden Bear Tour event the following week. (When I rolled in a birdie at ten, Jimmy Dee asked, "Are you playing the Golden Bear too?" Flushed with misplaced pride, I answered with a double bogey on the par-three eleventh). We moved along smartly, chuckling at the whimsical thirteenth (a 545-yard par five with huge mounds and a blind shot into the green) and struggling through the par-four fourteenth (uphill for 463 yards). At the 442-yard finishing hole, Jimmy Dee knocked his eight-iron approach over the lake to within a foot, tapped in for a one-under seventy-one and walked off saying he'd left a lot of shots out there. Guess we all do it.
The North course could easily suffer by comparison. It doesn't. Though a less flamboyant design and a tad shorter at 7,026 yards, it is tighter and more difficult around the steeply contoured greens, on which three-putting is distressingly common. Over lunch between rounds, a couple of regulars claimed that the North had become their favorite, that they now appreciated its subtleties after repeated play, and that it had its own distinctive holes too. Number three, for example, is four hundred yards long and finishes at a green suspended like a shelf on the side of a hill. The par-five fourth is all risk and reward--reachable in two if you're willing to flirt with the lagoon that borders the right side of the fairway. The 184-yard twelfth, with a lagoon in front and to the left of a multi-tiered green, might be the best par three on either course.
Driving back to the hotel, I was digesting this golfing feast and trying not to think about having to depart the next morning when I caught up to another black cloud. Once again, the storm drains backed up, the streets began to overflow and the traffic snarled. By the time I reached the causeway to my hotel on Hutchinson Island, however, the rain had stopped, the sun was out and a full, arching rainbow appeared, luminescent against the storm-darkened sky. The meteorological message was clear: On the Treasure Coast, I had found a pot of gold.